The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 147: Spiritual Parents, Spiritual Children
Hi friends. This week I’m thinking a lot about family, but maybe not in the way you might think. Last week on the podcast I talked about the Body of Christ being one big faith family, and how our differences actually serve one another. But this week, as I was preparing to sing at mass, I was thinking about two friends in my faith family who used to regularly pour encouragement into me. They would make their way into church, walk across the length of the chapel, and stop at the lectern where I stood waiting for mass to begin. There they would ask me about how I was doing, listen to my life updates, offer feedback, give encouragement, and in these few short minutes, they would remind me about just who and Whose I am. This routine made a big difference in my music ministry on each of those days, but also in my Christian formation and, honestly, in my life. Mr. Mackey and Deacon Jerry were spiritual fathers to me, and since their passing years ago, I feel their absence acutely. I sing at church now way less than I used to, but every so often when I do stand on the altar waiting for mass to begin, I find myself looking at the door and longing for them to come through. No matter our age, we all need to be pastored, encouraged, and seen. We all need someone to tell us the truth about who we are from time to time, and it has unfortunately been well over ten years since I had a regular pastoral voice in my life. But God is good and as I think on it this week, I do see that He has sent me spiritual family – parents and big brothers and sisters who take the time to pastor me. Also, as I get older, He has highlighted my role as a spiritual parent or big sister to those who are a bit behind me on the road. Person-to-person is how authentic Christianity was designed to be spread and lived out, and in the Body of Christ, we all have a role or roles to play.
Though personal mentorship or discipleship were essential components of the process of Christian evangelization at the start, this is something that a lot of the church has lost along the way. Jesus invited people one at a time to follow Him and to learn from Him. As word about Him spread from His disciples, the woman at the well, and those He healed, among many others, those people then became messengers and teachers of the faith. Later, the Gospel was spread by his friends to new people in new places and in each of these new Christian communities there was mutual care, mentorship, encouragement, teaching and direction, one human to another. The formation of an authentic Christian is no small thing. It requires investment, time, listening and care. The experience of Paul and Timothy is a beautiful example of spiritual parenting.
As we read in the Acts of the Apostles, Timothy was a young man in Lystra, in what is now central Turkey, when he met Paul. The son of a Jewish believing mother and a Greek father, Timothy became a student and apprentice to Paul and eventually developed into what Paul calls “my true son in the faith”. Pastor Rick Warren lays out three stages of a Paul-Timothy relationship: parenting, pacesetting, and partnership. In a mentoring relationship, we move over time from teacher/student to equals. Paul eventually calls Timothy “my fellow worker in the faith”. As a teacher myself, I routinely learn from my students as I am quite sure Paul learned from Timothy, but this kind of growing and maturing in the faith toward a working partnership is something that can take lots of time and effort, and the grace of God, to achieve. I never would have considered myself equal to someone like Deacon Jerry in terms of his knowledge and practice of the faith, but as I look back, I see that he absolutely was training me up in every interaction we shared, right up until the end in the hospital when he asked me to sing his favorite song, the words of which ministered to us both.
So, who is speaking into you these days, and who are you speaking into? And what does that look like?
Well, as I said, in the past I have had pastoral voices in my life – Mr. Mackey, Deacon Jerry, my friend Fr. Joe Callahan, my Mom. Though each of these friends art in Heaven, I do still feel their influence and their leading. In fact, as I was typing these words out on the patio this week, a bright red dragonfly flew a couple of inches away from my eyes and just stayed kind of there – a message from my mother, no doubt, to not forget about her in this piece, and honestly, how could I? Though she’s been gone now for almost eleven years, I do feel my mother speaking into my life all the time in ways I could not have imagined before she passed.
I’m fortunate to have big sisters and big brothers in the faith, too – people who are a bit further down the road from me and who take the time to remind me about my value, and about who and Whose I am. Where would I be without Patti and John, Kathy and Bob, Isabel, Mike, and Trish? Oh God, I shudder to think. And what would my faith look like without the influence of Carol and Kevin, Fr. Joe Raeke, Leo and Edna, and some of the authors and speakers whose work has totally changed my life and whom I cannot wait to meet in Heaven?
Now as I think on my spiritual children and my spiritual sisters and brothers, I recognize that I may not know them all. Maybe I’m a spiritual sister to you in this podcast – gosh, I hope so, that would be amazing! But who of us really knows our influence and the role we really play in one another’s lives? I know the ones whom God has given me to be intentional about in my prayer and action. My kids, of course, but also many others I root for and pray for and who hold a special place in my heart. God has put a spotlight over a few of friends of mine in a particular way that I know is about not just friendship, but faith, and they might not always know that, but I do. A couple of years back, our community hosted a group of FOCUS missionaries, and I was so very lucky to get to know one of them very well. Alex was from Nebraska, so I showed her around our area in the suburbs of Boston. We would meet for coffee, take walks, share our stories and I’d try to encourage and support her in whatever way I could. Like Paul from Timothy, I learned a lot from Alex in our time together. I’m grateful to still call her a friend and I consider her a spiritual daughter of mine. Though Alex has returned to Nebraska to work and get her master’s degree there, we still keep in touch. I still pray for her, and I absolutely know that God crossed our two paths together for a reason. God is weaving the most beautiful tapestry of our lives while we are living them.
Last week after mass, I was feeling a bit unmoored when I went to go catch up with Barbara. Now retired but somehow busier than ever, Barbara worked as the chapel secretary when I first met her so many years ago. In the time I’ve known her, Barbara has known hard losses including the loss of a husband and a child. She has known illness and worry over her dear ones, but she has a hard-fought joy that draws me to her. Honestly there is just a light that shines from Barbara that is undeniable. I see it from the altar when I sing or in any room we’re in together. Well, on this day, Barbara told me about her yearly weekend get-together she hosts for the women in her family – generations of them, and of her habit of praying for her grandchildren by name in order of age every time she climbs a set of stairs, and then of praying for her great-grandchildren in the same way on the way down. I mean, come on. Is that not the most rich and loving thing you’ve ever heard? Well, on this day, I took the time to tell Barbara how much her example means to me, her shining courage and steadfast joy, and her generous service to those around her, but Barbara doesn’t absorb this kind of praise. She knows who she is, and she is that. She lets the Lord live and shine in and through her, and she keeps her joy like a shield. Life will throw a lot at you, Barbara says, so it is our job to maintain our joy.
Well now that’s a homily, don’t you think? Actually, Barbara’s whole life is kind of a homily, now that I think of it.
So, how is your life speaking, and what lesson or lessons is your life teaching these days to those who are a bit behind you on the road? Who do you pray for as you walk or rest or hold your rosary beads or their picture in your hands? And who does this for you? This week, I pray we would all know this kind of intentional care and let the wellspring of it affect the lives of us and those around us. Person to person in a family – that’s how we are formed, and it is how we are designed to live. One big family who looks out for our brothers and sisters in the ways we all need, telling us the truth about just who and Whose we really are. Amen, let it be for you and for me this week and well beyond.
Thanks so much for being with me today, friend. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites, at Substack at kerrycampbellwrites.substack.com, or on my website at kerrycampbell.org. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there are a couple of ways for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, we bring you our spiritual children, parents, brothers, and sisters. As we mention their names now, or picture their faces in our minds, God, we entrust them to you for your care.
Bring them inspiration, wisdom, encouragement, good mentors, and good open doors, and Lord, would you illuminate the ones you want us to speak into in a more direct or intentional way? God, please use us and speak through us for the good of the whole family. We pray in the name of Jesus and wrapped in the mantle of our Mother Mary, amen.
Thanks so much for listening today, friend. I’ll see you next time.
This week we’re exploring mentorship within the Body of Christ. Who are you speaking into, and who is speaking into you? I pray it’s a helpful episode for you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram, at my website, or on Substack. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s a way to do just that on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow.
Thanks as always to my friend, Peter Vaughan-Vail, for providing the beautiful harp music you hear in this and every episode.
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Article: Three phases of a Paul-Timothy relationship, by Rick Warren
2. Journaling questions:
Who can I identify as a spiritual parent or elder sibling? How has that person spoken into my life and helped to form me?
Who can I identify as a spiritual child or younger sibling? What role can I play in helping that person who is a bit behind me on the road?
3. Podcast: How Do I Find a Mentor, on That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs
4. Podcast: Who is Praying for You, on That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs
5. Video: First Letter of Timothy, from Bible Project
6. Video: Miracle of the Fish, from The Chosen
7. Song: The Body of Christ, by Sarah Hart
8. Song: My Lighthouse, by Rend Collective
9. Deacon Jerry’s favorite song: Give Me Jesus, by Fernando Ortega
10: Jesus teaching the Sermon on the Mount to those who would teach it to others, and on and on, from The Chosen